Before you assume this is another article having a pop at Simon Mignolet, let me say first and foremost – I like him.
I think he’s a decent goalkeeper, capable of making some world class saves. I also think he’s a decent, ‘laid back’ bloke.
The story of him the other week going to sit with an eight-year-old boy in a restaurant to celebrate his birthday because he saw him wearing a Liverpool goalkeeper shirt, makes it hard to have a go at him.
That’s the sort of story you can tell your girlfriend in order to make her care about your team, sort of similar to those sob stories you see on X Factor designed to make your root for whoever is murdering a Mariah Carey ballad.
“Mignolet is a proper nice bloke, he sat with a little boy for his birthday. See, not all footballers are ‘overpaid wankers’. Do you like Liverpool now?”
I also liked his response to questions about whether he felt under pressure with all the rumours surrounding Victor Valdes.
“Well, the only pressure is what you put yourself under. What is pressure? Pressure is what is happening in Iraq at the moment when there is a war. That is pressure.”
Well that certainly puts things in perspective Simon..
Brendan Rodgers described Mignolet as being a ‘laid back character’ the other week, almost hinting he wasn’t a big enough character to command the back four of one of the biggest clubs in the country.
But being described as ‘laid back’ does Mignolet something of a disservice in my opinion, as he is something of an interesting character, and certainly not your stereotypical footballer.
With the likes of Mario Balotelli in the Liverpool dressing room, it is perhaps easy to see why Mignolet is considered by his boss to be something of a quieter character – or perhaps just more normal?
“I understand why players have those cars and are like that but, for me, those things are not really important,” he said in an interview in 2012.
“It’s partly to do with how you’ve been brought up and partly that some people just like to show off away from the pitch. That’s understandable and fine, it’s just that I’m not into it.”
Fluent in French, German, Dutch and English, Mignolet also has a degree in political science – something he completed upon moving to Sunderland in 2010.
“It’s just something I do in my spare time,” Mignolet explained previously.
At 26-years-of-age, Mignolet is young for a goalkeeper – especially when you consider he developed in that position by accident as a youngster.
Released at the age of 14 by Belgian club Sint-Truidense after failing to impress as a midfielder, Mignolet took the advice of his father and moved between the sticks.
“I turned goalkeeper,” he said. “My father had been one and we had a goal in the back garden. He’d taught me a bit about it so I thought I’d give it a go.
“I didn’t really know whether it was going to be a good choice or a bad one but I joined a small local team as a keeper and it turned out to be a really good decision. One year later it turned out that my old club wanted me again.”
September has proved a month to forget for the Reds accidental goalkeeper, conceding eight goals in five matches (and 13 penalties in a shootout), which has seen his position as the clubs first choice keeper called into question.
Criticism of the Belgian has been getting slowly more vocal, with positional errors proving costly against Manchester City and Ludogorets already this season.
And on Sky Sports Monday Night Football last night, Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville had their say on the Reds goalkeeper.
Neville made what at first appeared a ridiculous claim that Mignolet should have done better with Phil Jagielka’s last minute strike in Saturday’s Merseyside derby.
But a look at the Belgian’s starting position for the strike, showed he was in an unusually low position when the ball was hit – something Neville pointed out he had done last season in crucial games against Arsenal and Manchester City.
“I’d seen it last season and didn’t mention it then and then I saw it on Saturday on thought that it’s a pattern,” Neville said.
“It’s a technical error for me, the way in which he is crouched down, and that’s the reason I mention it.
“It’s three goals in big games. There might be more, but those are the three that I remember, particularly on Saturday because it was such a big moment in the game.”
Carragher also believes Mignolet has not done enough in the big games for Liverpool, not just this season – but over the course of the previous campaign when the Reds missed out on the Premier League title by two points to Manchester City.
“I think the best goalkeepers who win big trophies make big saves at big moments,” Carragher said.
“That was a big moment. It’s not a massive mistake, but can he do better?
“Everyone always talks about Steven Gerrard slipping and costing Liverpool the league and you can never look at one individual and one mistake, but Demba Ba still had to go through. You’re looking at your keeper and thinking: ‘Come on, win us the league. Make that save that’s going to be a defining moment in the season.’
“Against Manchester City Liverpool lost 2-1 and if he’d made the save from Negredo then that’s two points off City and another one for Liverpool.
“I think of Joe Hart. After the Chelsea game, Man City had a tough game at Everton and they won 3-2. Joe Hart had to make a save from Naismith, flicking his left hand out and that wins them the league.
“We can all talk about goalscorers, players who win the league and make a big difference, but goalkeepers make a massive difference and at those big moments you’ve got to make big saves.
“Up until now in his Liverpool career he hasn’t made those big saves. If it continues I can see Liverpool looking for another goalkeeper.
“There was talk of Victor Valdes because he is a free agent, but he has got to improve.”
Whilst both Carragher and Neville made a lot of sense with their comments, Mignolet could point to some key saves he has made in his Liverpool career in his defence.
His last minute penalty save against Stoke on the opening day of last season, and his stunning tip onto the crossbar on the opening day against Southampton both ultimately earned the Reds points.
But I would look at the winning goals for Manchester City and Chelsea in the away games as last season as moments he should have done better, whilst mistakes against Aston Villa and Norwich City were also poor.
Mignolet has consistently been described as a top ‘shot-stopper’ a comment that has infuriated Carragher in the past.
“All goalkeepers should be good shot-stoppers. Otherwise, what are they doing in goal?” he raged last season.
It is Mignolet’s nervousness from crosses, and apparent inability to organise his defence from set-pieces that are proving a problem at present, whilst his distribution is not in the same league as Pepe Reina.
However, I am not personally convinced Victor Valdes is the answer.
The Spanish goalkeeper has plenty of experience, and has won all there is to win and would no doubt demand respect.
But Mignolet has been playing behind a back four that has changed consistently throughout his Liverpool career, and in my opinion has the right mentality to succeed.
He seems almost unflappable under pressure – his measured response to questions this week proves that – whilst at 26 he has plenty of time to improve.
Fortunately for Brendan Rodgers, Mignolet does not seem the type to let the pressure get to him, whilst his confidence remains intact.
He hit the headlines last season for a public fallout with Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois – a man widely regarded as one of Europe’s finest goalkeepers – when Mignolet stated he felt he should be given a chance as Belgium’s number one ahead of him.
Rodgers invested £9million in Mignolet, and disposed of a club legend in Pepe Reina in order to install him as the clubs number one.
Whilst Liverpool fans can criticise him for some below par performances, pining for Victor Valdes (overrated in my opinion) is not the answer at the moment.
Mignolet needs to improve, of that there is no question.
But a bit of faith and support for the Reds accidental goalkeeper would surely see that happen sooner rather than later.
What do you think of Simon Mignolet’s performances for Liverpool? Should he remain as the club’s first choice goalkeeper? Is Victor Valdes a better option? Let us know your thoughts below.